I Finally Get Back to North Fork School of Equitation!!!
It had been almost four and a half years, between my appendectomy, several exacerbations of my MS, and problems with doctors and insurance I could not get up there, but I FINALLY felt well enough to make the very long trip up to North Fork. When I called Karen Fenwick to set up my lesson she sounded glad that I was returning, and I promised to show her my new techniques for riding better.
It is good to ride under a different set of eyes, Debbie is an absolutely wonderful riding instructor and has kept my position up to par, but I wanted Karen to see me again to tell me if I had picked up any horrible habits in the last four years. Karen has taught the Forward Seat longer than I have been riding seriously, almost 50 years, so I can trust her to point out any problems with my riding.
When I finally got to North Fork I was very tired, one day we drove 13 ½ hours, the next two days I sat for over 8 hours, and then the trip to our motel near North Fork (which is in Jefferson, Md.). Karen was doing her usual Sunday morning group lesson when we arrived, this time she was in the indoor ring since the wind was bitterly cold. Karen told me to wait, that the horse I was going to ride was in the group lesson, so I sat down to watch the rest of the lesson.
When the rest of the horses were led out of the indoor ring I got to see who I was riding, a gray gelding, around 16 hands, who Karen thinks is probably a TB. The poor horse had lost his left eye several years ago. Though he was miffed that he had to go on working when all the other horses got to go back to the barn, he was rather pleasant about it to me. His name is Aspen, he obviously had a somewhat rough life in the past (he also broke his splint bone in his left hind years ago,) and now he is a useful lesson horse, of good disposition and rather forgiving of human faults.
It was nice to ride a TB again! You all know that I almost worship Arabians, but I cheerfully admit that the TB movement is rather nice to ride.
Karen asked Aspen's previous rider to stay a while in case I needed help. After walking around some I NEEDED to do a “rider's push-up” to get my body aligned properly so I walked up to them and started showing Karen my new techniques. I started with my back and shoulders, showing them how I brought my shoulder joints up towards my ears, then back, then relaxing my muscles so my shoulder blades slid down flat against my back (and I told them how the Equicube had shown me what to do to fix my back). Then I told them how and where I found out about the “rider's push-ups” (COTH forum), and how this simple exercise transformed my riding. Then I got up into two-point, got my lower legs forward into the horse's girth groove, and lowered my chest to the horse's neck. After I sat back down in the saddle I explained all the things I did to keep my balance and not feel like I was going to become a lawn dart, first getting my shoulder blades down on my back, my lower legs forward, gripping with my upper calf, and keeping my face vertical as I lower my chest. I also discussed how I felt so much more secure when I gripped with my lower calf, but that when I did that my hip bursitis flared up. This is unfortunate for me for when I grip with my lower calf I feel secure enough in the saddle to consider jumping again! I also discussed how this exercise “unlocked” my hip joints, enabling me to sit deeper in the saddle.
Karen and her student were fascinated, they had never heard of the “rider's push-up” exercise or seen it done. I said that I thought it replicated what the rider has to do over a five or six foot jump, and Karen pointed to a poster of a show jumping rider over a big fence on the arena wall and said I was right. Her student was thrilled to see an exercise that would really help her in the saddle! She started asking questions, and came up with how she could see that getting her core muscles stronger would help her do this exercise, but from what she said I got the impression that she was thinking more sit-ups and holding her stomach in. I told her how being trained to hold my stomach in automatically made me hunch over some and start going into the fetal position when in the saddle. After explaining about pushing out with my diaphragm and referring to the Duke of Newcastle's book, I showed her a halt where my only aids were pushing my diaphragm forward while I kept my hands steady. Luckily Aspen cooperated!
Of course Karen pointed out what was wrong with my riding. She got after me the most for my hands moving up and down when I kept contact. I think I have a “glitch” in one of the nerves in my upper arms, I just cannot seem to keep good contact unless I “give and take” with my fingers. She got after me several times as Aspen carried his head higher than usual until I got my fingers working properly. However Karen praised each and every halt I got from Aspen, prompt, soft mouthed and relaxed. Karen also told me several times to relax the outer hamstring tendon of my right leg when I did the “rider's push-ups, something I will have to concentrate on for now on.
This was the first time in my life I rode an one-eyed horse. It took me a while until I got him to track next to the wall in both directions. As my contact improved and as Aspen became convinced that my leg and hand aids meant something, we were able to achieve straightness, which I could see in one of the mirrors on the indoor arena's walls. Aspen became straight in spite of his back reacting differently to the push off of his previously injured hind leg to the push off of his sound hind leg. I find it amazing how horses can overcome their disabilities to give us what we want from them!
After my ride I changed from my riding clothes and sat down in the kitchen with Karen. I had brought my bridle with my “old style” Wellep bit, and I showed her the over three inches of side-to-side freedom this bit gives the horse. She was intrigued and told me that my bit was too narrow to use on Aspen, but the next time I set up a lesson to remind her to put me up on a horse with a 4 3/4” mouth so she could see the bit in action. I told her how this bit had shown me faults in my hands, and how many times I got “zings” when the horses adjusted their heads to the best position to obey my aids. I also told her how I had to use my lower legs less and how the horses moved with more impulse when I used this bit.
Karen thanked me for showing her the “rider's push-up” exercise, and told me she would start including it in her lessons. When I said that I wished that the earlier Forward Seat authors had discovered this exercise she told me that, since they were in the cavalry, they got to ride many, many more horses than normal riders, and that the cavalry men got to ride many hours every day. Of course they were better riders than us mere mortals!
I am so glad I got up to North Fork again! It was so good to talk to another person who is even deeper into the Forward Seat than I am. Karen has taught the Forward Seat for around fifty years, resisting all the popular new styles that riders pick up and try to meld with the Forward Seat. This often does not work very well in my eyes since dressage techniques are the ones most frequently used to try and “improve” the Forward Seat, and the philosophies, basic seat and riding techniques of the Forward Seat and dressage are so very, very different. While I do pick up methods from my dressage books, I will only regularly do the ones that I can practice while riding in the Forward Seat without any hint of collection, and most of these are about the timing of my aids. Karen told me I am still riding an effective Forward Seat, and I am happy about that.
Have a great ride!